How-To: Norton Commando Electronic Ignition Upgrade

| 4/2/2012 4:42:38 PM

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1973 Norton 850 

If you own a classic British twin — or triple — and ride it with any regularity, you really owe it to yourself to consider an ignition upgrade. While the stock Lucas ignition system used on just about every non-magneto fired Brit twin from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s can work just fine, it requires constant attention, including points cleaning, gapping and resetting timing, to keep functioning at its best. And even then it can be an uphill battle; Lucas mechanical advance units are notoriously prone to wear and sticking at full advance, causing a high idle at stop lights and generally poor performance.

The answer to all this is to fit an aftermarket electronic ignition system. Using an electronic pickup and with no moving parts other than a rotor or trigger wheel, electronic ignition systems have been the norm for decades now, and have proven to supply years and years of reliable sparking.

The Tri-Spark system

For this How-To, we turned to well known Norton specialists Colorado Norton Works (, who are also the U.S. distributor for Tri-Spark Digital Electronic Ignition from Australia. We also tapped into CNW’s extensive experience with Tri-Spark (they fit all their custom Nortons with Tri-Spark ignition systems) by ordering up their custom single-coil conversion kit. Although the kit adds a not inconsiderable $152.95 to the $329.95 Tri-Spark system, we can tell you from experience that if you want simplicity allied with reliable starting, you’ll never regret spending the extra dosh.

Our subject bike was a basically stock 1973 Norton 850. Installation was straight-forward, taking no more than a few hours, and you don’t need to be a high-level tech to carry out this conversion. If you can use a crimping tool and follow directions, you should be able to undertake this How-To. The system is well thought out and nicely executed, making tuning a breeze; we found that static timing was all we needed, as running timing was spot on when we checked it with a timing light. And once it’s set, chances are you’ll never adjust your timing again.

The best part was finally firing up our Commando. It’s now one of the easiest starting, nicest running Commandos we’ve ever had the pleasure of riding. Although a properly tuned Commando should start easily enough, our bike now starts first kick every time — and runs like the proverbial scalded cat. Don’t believe us? See our video at 

4/9/2012 9:06:09 PM

Electronic ignition is possibly the best investment you can make in these old bikes. The timing is more accurate, and you save enough money on points replacement to pay for the unit in a year or two. You also save yourself the hassle of continuously adjusting points and timing, especially on a British triple.I have no experience with the Trispark, and I do wish the Lucas Rita system were still available. Affordable alternative systems are available from Pazon and Boyer.